Note: This post is a response to a comment on a blog post (link). I knew my response was going to be long and, to be honest, I did not want to type all of this in those small comment boxes found on WordPress. I decided to do it as a blog post and open the floor for discussion but feel free to visit Steve’s blog and join that discussion. Any text in bold are not my words but are quotes from the comment to which I am responding.
Before I begin, I do not claim to be a free thinker mostly because I do not know what that truly entails other than what is found in the dictionary. I am not atheist but I do not know what I am. The closest label that I know that describes my spiritual beliefs would be a deist. However, I do not necessarily subscribe to those beliefs.
Science and faith are not mutually exclusive. When talking about these matters, there is a quote by Thomas Paine that I like to use because it fits my beliefs.
The word of God is the creation we behold and it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man.
If one thinks about it, an argument can be made that science is the study of Creation. A key limitation of science is that it is incapable of proving or disproving the existence of a Creator. That is not a question that science attempts to answer.
If scientists claim they KNOW what happened on primordial Earth, non-living materials, be it gas, chemical elements, electrical charges, but can’t replicate it, is this not like saying “I know everything there is about a combustion engine, just don’t ask me to make one because I can’t?
A real scientist will not make the claim that we KNOW what happened on primordial Earth. It is impossible to observe what happened. This means that scientists “guess” about what could have happened and perform experiments to see if their hypotheses are plausible. Research continues into this area for the simple reason we do not know what happened.
Keep in mind that man is fallible and by extension this includes scientists. This is the reason for the scientific method and peer review. Science is really an iterative process in which we expand our knowledge through trial and error. Dismissing science because it does not get it right the first time is demanding the impossible.
Let’s take Darwinism into account. Let’s say that by some unexplained and unproven (nor unprovable at this point) set of events, these non-living materials, after billions of years (for the earth, 4.5 billion years according to the estimate I’ve heard), some life form did come about. What did it feed on, be it plant or animal or single-celled creature?
There are theories that address this question. While I am not familiar with all of them, one of the more popular ones is that these early forms of life clustered around hydrothermal vents. The heat from the vents provided the energy and building blocks that sustained these early life forms.
Is it possible that an asteroid crashed into earth, breaking apart and releasing living cells? Sure, I’ll give that one up but do organic cells require an atmosphere in which to live? Seems unlikely that an asteroid would have living organic cells, but still, may well be possible.
The idea that living cells arrived on Earth on comets is a consideration; many scientists would agree that it is unlikely, however. Another problem with that theory is that it shifts the question to another celestial body. It is known that comets and asteroids can have organic compounds that formed on them with ultraviolet light being the energy source for the reactions. When they crashed into Earth, those compounds added to the ones that formed here.
We hear a lot from scientists and sometimes their findings are determined by who is footing the bill, i.e., follow the money and you’ll know the conclusion of a study before it’s published.
This is indeed a problem which is why there is a peer review process. Even then, the process is not perfect and junk science gets published. I strongly suspect that there are even elements of confirmation bias and political correctness in certain disciplines. Skepticism in the true sense of the word is essential. That said, the bad apples do not invalidate the whole body of scientific knowledge.
Should we then base our entire “faith”, being closed to all other possibilities, on “a minuscule sample size”?
If we were to assume that scientists placing the odds of life happening by chance being mind boggling low are correct, it still does not disprove that it did not happen in that way.
Consider the lottery as an example. With the odds of winning, it is very likely that there will not be a winner on a given week even with all of the tickets sold. Going months without a winner is not uncommon. However, each of those tickets has a chance of being a winner and with enough tickets sold, there will be a winner.
Essentially, this is a possibility because there are billions of stars. Each of those stars (at some point their lives) had the possibility of having a planet in the habitable zone and on each of those planets, reactions that could produce life happened billions of times (if not more). Over the course of billions of years, it is plausible that the right set of circumstances came about. While the odds of it happen is mind bogglingly low, the number of opportunities is mind bogglingly high.
The truth is that we do not know what the odds of life happening by chance is. The only sample available to us is Earth and the other planets in this solar system. That is a sample size of only one star out of billions and is nowhere near a statistically valid sample.
This does not prove that the Creator did not direct events to cause life to happen. However, that is a claim that cannot be addressed by science and thus it requires faith.
I have to look at some of the current crop of well educated people, some I personally know … who think God, or whatever one wishes, does exist.
A question that I have is, do they say that God does not exist or do they say that there is no proof of God? There is a subtle distinction between the two statements. Saying that God does not exist is a belief as that claim cannot be addressed with science (atheism). Saying that there is no proof of God is a true statement but it leaves open the possibility that there is a God (agnostic).
As to microevolution, there is no doubt in my mind. As to macroevolution, I’ve doubts as did Darwin, Leaky and others who’ve studied the living physical structures of the planet.
(Some, justifiable so, would point out that the limb structure of whales are very similar to that of land mammals and that man and some animals have similar structure…….. Does this prove macroevolution? Could be viewed as so. However, does it not also suggest intelligent design? If a design works, why would one not use that design, perhaps with modification, to fit numerous units. For example, when the wheel was first invented, whenever that may have been, why was it used on carts, water mills, chariots….. Because it worked better than a square, triangle….)
I am not familiar with the terms micro evolution and macro evolution. So, I am going to have to muddle through this with my understanding. I think that the concept of micro evolution is not controversial because it is the mechanism behind selective breeding and we can observe it.
Macro evolution (which I am going to shorten to evolution) is not so clearly established. As with everything in science, it is a theory that is supported by evidence. It cannot be proven because what we can find in the fossil record is incomplete. That said, we can observe creatures becoming more complex as times progressed.
Again, none of this proves or disproves the existence of a Creator. If anything, it describes the process by which the Creator would have used to create life as we know it.
Side Note: I would like to point out some of what I have observed about free thinkers. I noticed some free thinkers will make the argument that if something cannot be proven, it means that it is not true. This is a known logical fallacy (ad ignoratum). For example: since scientists cannot replicate the conditions of primordial Earth that resulted in life happening by chance, means that life did not happen by chance. Confirmation bias seems to be an issue. Evidence that does not support a predetermined outcome gets dismissed or ignored. Just some things to think about.